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1957 Albanus 17, "Johnny Gray"

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SN#: 111

Body size at lower bout: 17 3/8", Body Depth: 3 1/4" Scale length: 24" Nut: 1 21/32"

Finish: Sunburst finish, nitrocellulose lacquer type.

Materials: Solid bookmatched handcarved fine grain spruce top; full-depth handcarved solid maple back and sides; tiger flame maple neck with walnut centerstripes; solid ebony fingerboard with block inlays; pearl diamond headstock logo; 9-ply body binding, 3-ply neck and headstock binding; triple-bound f-holes; solid bone nut.

Hardware: Original hardware includes gold Kluson Deluxe tuners, hand carved ebony tailpiece with pearl inlay. Vintage correct bound black acrylic pickguard, gold DeArmond Model 1100 Adjustable Rhythm Chief pickup with volume control and 1/4" output jack, compensated adjustable rosewood bridge.

Notes: This remarkable guitar unites two of the most enigmatic figures in the world of jazz guitar. The first is Carl Albanus Johnson, the fabled mid-century Chicago luthier. The second is the elusive Johnny Gray, Hollywood guitarist extraordinare.

Born in Sweden, Carl Johnson was trained as a violin maker, and is said to have learned guitar craft at the Boston workshop of a fellow Swede, Elmer Stromberg. Setting up shop in Chicago in the 50's, Johnson continued to build viol family instruments, but soon gained a formidable reputation carving archtop guitars for the working professionals of the Windy City.

Part of the mystery surrounding Albanus guitars has been the belief that Johnson affixed neither labels nor serial numbers to his instruments. However, this guitar proves that Johnson did label at least one of them, along with its date of manufacture, making it the only labeled Albanus we have seen to date. Albanus archtops are among the rarest of American guitars, with rough estimates ranging to no more than perhaps a hundred examples, and perhaps as few as half that number. Given that low production, and the early date of this instrument, we think it's at least a reasonable guess that this label may designate this instrument as Johnson's eleventh guitar. If so, it would seem likely that Albanus production began sometime in the mid-50's, continuing until his death in 1977. More detail on Johnson's career may be found on our page here.

In Johnson's hand at the bottom of the label is the name of the owner, one Johnny Gray. A guitar prodigy from Oklahoma, John Willard Gray toured with name bands including Glenn Miller and Sammy Kaye, and settled in Chicago as a member of Ray McKinley's orchestra in the 1950's. Lured to Hollywood late in the decade, Gray backed the likes of Frank Sinatra, Nancy Wilson, Bobby Troup, Julie London, Mel Torme, Gerry Mulligan and more. Tapped by no less than Herb Ellis for George Shearing's combo, Gray released a well-regarded solo album on Capitol in 1962, backed by a trio fronted by Ellis himself. Sadly, Gray's playing days were cut short in 1968 by a crippling stroke, and he returned to Oklahoma where he died in obscurity in 1983. More on Gray's short but prolific career is on Jazzwax here and here.

Gray presumably obtained this guitar during his years in Chicago, where the instrument was built to order, like most if not all Albanus guitars. The 17"+ lower bout is just slightly wider than an L-5, and is handcarved with a birdseye maple back and tiger maple sides, all finished in a elegant tobacco sunburst. The handcarved soundboard shows the reddish mineralization often associated with Adirondack spruce as well. The body binding is extravagant, with nine plies on the body and triple bound f-holes, and the solid ebony fingerboard shows Johnson's unique inverted finial. The handcarved ebony tailpiece is another Albanus trademark, reflecting Johnson's roots in violin building. (Predating D'Aquisto by a number of years, Johnson may indeed deserve credit for introducing the wooden tailpiece on the modern archtop guitar.)

The neck profile is a comfy gentle C, with smooth low action over a solid ebony fingerboard with fine medium jumbo frets. Notably, the scale length is an even 24", placing it between the Byrdland and the ES-175, and making for an exceptionally nimble fingerboard for stretch chords or lightning runs alike. A genuine gold DeArmond Model 1100 Adjustable Rhythm Chief pickup is installed, one of the most sought after pickups ever made, with a volume control and 1/4" jack. A vintage correct bound black pickguard is attached, replacing what at some point imust have been a larger guard, whose tiny bracket holes on the side have been neatly filled.

Maintained in excellent condition, the instrument is without pick, buckle, thumb or fingerboard wear, and shows only a few finish cracks in the all-original nitro finish, with none through the wood. The original multi-ply binding remains tight to the body and in excellent shape, and at just over 6 lb. the body is nicely lightweight and well balanced. The voice is truly extraordinary. Dramatically open and resonant, with particularly deep natural reverb and sustain, it's has the responsiveness of a meticulously carved, well aged X-braced soundboard, played-in to its prime.

The instrument is offered from the estate of the late Dick Curtis, a veteran of the Chicago jazz scene, who concluded his career in the Phoenix area. A video of Dick in performance with this guitar is here. This extraordinary instrument unites two of the jazz world's most inspired craftsmen, each at the top of their game. Call now.

Setup: This instrument is strung with medium gauge nickel roundwound strings (.013-.056). The guitar will accommodate lighter or heavier gauge strings, according to preference. String action is set at 4/64" to 5/64" at the 12th fret, with moderate relief for acoustic playing with medium strings. The action may be lowered or raised to your requirements with the adjustable bridge.

Case: Deluxe arched black plush lined hardshell case.






















































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